by Steve Pavlick
If the November midterms proved one thing, it’s that Republicans have a less-than-breezy path to a majority in Washington, D.C.
Most of the attention on the 2024 election will center around the race for president. But don’t forget to watch the down ballot congressional races because the control of Congress really matters.
Both chambers are narrowly divided and control for both is up for grabs.
One-party control in Congress creates the opportunity to pass transformational legislation. Narrow congressional majorities have primarily limited the possibilities of what can be shoehorned through budget reconciliation, allowing bills related to budgetary matters to pass the Senate with a bare majority as opposed to the usual 60-vote threshold.
However, if a president’s party does not have control over both congressional chambers, their legislative agenda is largely non-existent.
Republicans have a favorable Senate map in 2024 which should improve their prospects of winning control of the upper chamber. While House election results have historically been more correlated with the presidential election result, in 2020, House Republicans flipped 15 seats despite Biden winning the presidency.
Growing partisanship combined with more gerrymandered seats may be why bigger swings in House elections are less common moving forward.
This could create conditions for Democrats to win back the House and Republicans to win back the Senate, leaving whoever is president with a divided government and, therefore, limited legislative prospects.
According to the University of Virginia Center for Politics, the 2022 congressional midterm elections featured 25 states that held both governor and senator elections. Six states produced split ticket results, defined here as voting for one party for Senate and the other for governor.
This matched the prior two most recent midterm elections in 2018 and 2014, which also saw six split-ticket outcomes.
However, split-ticket voting is more of a phenomenon in midterm elections compared with recent presidential elections. 2016 marked the first time in the popular vote era that every state with a Senate contest voted the same as it did for president.
In 2020, Maine was the only state to split its ticket, with Republican Senator Susan Collins winning re-election and the state also going for Democrat Joe Biden for president. According to the Washington Post, the 2020 presidential election saw only 16 split-ticket House districts, eight for each party.
Senate Breakdown for 2024
In 2022 Democrats had a favorable map as they were forced to defend 14 seats compared with 21 for Republicans. In 2024, there will be 34 contests, but Democrats will be forced to defend 23 seats compared with 11 for Republicans.
To make matters worse for Democrats, three of the seats they must defend are in states that Donald Trump won in 2020.
These are Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, Jon Tester, and Sherrod Brown. Brown is the only one so far to declare that he is seeking re-election. On Jan. 12th Politico reported that Democrats are pressuring Manchin and Tester to run again to keep their majority, or at least limit Republican gains in the upper chamber.
On a Jan. 16th Fox News interview, West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice said he was “very interested” in pursuing Manchin’s Senate seat in 2024. Democrats must also defend seats in five states Joe Biden very narrowly (less than 3%) won in 2020.
These seats are held by Kyrsten Sinema, Tammy Baldwin, Bob Casey, Jacky Rosen and Debbie Stabenow.
Both the Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia Center for Politics released their initial Senate ratings.
Cook’s initial rating is more sympathetic to Democrats. Of the 23 held Democrat-held seats 15 seats are rated “Solid D.” Three seats are rated as “Toss Up.” Of the 11 Republican-held seats, 10 are rated “Solid R”.
The University of Virginia Center for Politics rates nine of the 11 Republican-held seats as “Safe” while placing two states in the “Likely R” category. It rates West Virginia as “Lean R” which gets Republicans back to 50. It also rates three Democrat-held states as “Toss Up.”
It concludes that if Republicans were able to win the “Toss-ups” and possibly cut into the “Lean D” category that they could build a durable Senate majority.
Some argue it will be difficult for Republicans to hold the House as Republicans hold 18 districts that Joe Biden carried in the 2020 presidential election, while Democrats hold only have five districts that Donald Trump had.
It always comes down to Trump and will he help down ballot candidates. Ironically, the Democrats have the same problem of who will be at the top of the ticket and will it help down ballot candidates.
For Republicans the biggest unknown is who will be at the top of the ticket. The good news is that it’s only 625 days until the 2024 election.
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Steve Pavlick is a Partner and Head of Policy at Renaissance Macro and a former Treasury official.
Photo “Donald Trump” by Palácio do Planalto. CC BY 2.0. Photo “Joe Biden” by U.S. Secretary of Defense. CC BY 2.0. Background Photo “Election Day” by Phil Roeder. CC BY 2.0.